A group of friends started a petition in support of inclusive education for differently-abled children. As the number of supporters grew, so does those who disagree with our tactic.
Using our campaign’s hashtag, someone posted that they’re not sure if our petition will work, a fair opinion especially if you’ve never attempted to campaign using one nor have signed on one that won. It’s always easy to dismiss something we’re unfamiliar.
Being in the non-profit sector, petitions are no-brainer. Oftentimes, we do it instinctively. It’s (almost) always our first entry point for new audiences to join our campaign. However, for most common folks (I’m using this term loosely), petition seems to be just a number’s game. The more entry you’ve got, the more chances of winning. That is, somewhat, true.
Beyond numbers, they are not engaged (either by choice or lack of deeper engagement by campaigners themselves) into the whole journey of campaigning. This creates a disconnect to their sense of ownership to the issue at hand.
So what made us decide to use the petition as our main tactic? It’s simple, we ask ourselves this main question, “why do you need the numbers anyway?” And our answers are these:
- We want to expose the issue. There are rumors running around and no one seems to find any clarity. The idea is that, the more people know you’re looking for answers, the more of them can give you information. Most often than not, the right people would have the right answer;
- We want to bring awareness. Once we found the answer, we provided clarity to confusions and questions bring to light the real issue at hand. Simple issues sometimes are rooted to a more systemic societal problems. We would like to highlight that this issue is not only an issue of a limited few but of society at large;
- We want to bring the issue to public discourse. We want to hear people’s thoughts. We want to hear what they would do if faced with similar predicaments. We want to know how else we can further this campaign by bringing more hearts, hands and mind in the pot.
We recognized that petitions are good entry points for our campaign. It elevates the issue beyond decision makers and affected parties. It removes the veil of secrecy to bring transparency. It ensures public accountability.
But petitions are only as good as to where you bring them afterwards. Petitions are addressed to specific targets, or the who-can-bring-about-the-change-you-desire. These are decision-makers. You have to make your targets aware you are targeting them. They have to feel you. And one-way to ensure that is to create noise. And with more people comes more noise. Similarly, if you believe in the concept of 6-degrees of separation, somehow, somewhere, someone is connected to your target. Create your breadth to reach distance.
Since we are in the early stage of our campaign, the next questions to ask ourselves are, how many of those who signed up are willing to engage further? Who among them, if not all, are willing to give more? Will they give their time, sweat or money? How many of them are willing to go beyond signatures? We need to create a bigger ask (commitment) to bring about a bigger impact.
Over-all, a good petition aims to shift power dynamics. Because behind every signature is a face. These are people who believe that your cause is worth fighting for. These are people willing to vouch their names for truth and justice. They are those willing to push boundaries because they know that together, they can.
So in the future, when you encounter another petition (for sure, you will), and you support the issue but still find that the tactic is not right. It’s okay, BUT, do not simply dismiss it. Ask yourself, “what else can I do?” Because there’s always something we can do.